Lance Armstrong is an addict. Pure and simple. He’s addicted to cycling. He’s addicted to winning. He’s addicted to performance enhancements. And, like most addicts I know still actively using, he’s in denial about his addiction.
Now, some people may say: “It’s too late for Lance. His image is irrevocably tarnished. He’s been stripped of his 7 Tour de France medals, his sponsors have all dropped him, even his own Livestrong Cancer Foundation wants nothing to do with him. There’s no chance the public will ever forgive him, and there sure as hell is no chance for redemption.”
But, that’s where they’re wrong…dead wrong. If there’s anything I learned from the five years I spent battling alcoholism it’s that…no matter how far down the drain you think you’ve spiraled, as long as there’s a pulse still beating inside your body, it’s never too late to change who you are and seek out redemption. You just have to want it bad enough, to get it. You have to be willing to do whatever it takes if you want to recover.
Now, Lance Armstrong is no stranger to survival. I mean, the guy survived cancer, didn’t he? But now, he’s up against an equally debilitating yet somewhat still stigmatized illness; addiction. And if you’re not yet convinced Lance Armstrong is an addict, consider this: The guy risked everything for a couple of gold medals—his health, his integrity, his livelihood, his family—he sold his very soul for first prize at a couple of bike races. He knew the cost, the repercussions for cheating. Yet, he did it anyway. Why? Why’d he do it?
My buddies in recovery all know the answer to that question. It’s because he couldn’t help it. He long lost the ability to make his own decisions. He was powerless; powerless over his obsession with winning; powerless over the euphoria that winning gave him. Sound familiar?
For those of you new to the world of addiction & recovery, the word “powerless” is used quite ubiquitously. In fact, the First Step in the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous states as follows: “We admitted we were powerless over our alcohol. That our lives had become unmanageable.”
Of course, this specifically refers to alcohol. But just replace the word “alcohol” with your own poison—narcotics, cocaine, sex, overeating—and you end up with the alphabet soup of Twelve Step Programs (i.e. NA, CA, OA, SA…the list goes on and on).
Relatively new to this list of addictive substances are “performance enhancements,” which is basically just a cast net term that includes everything from lean mass builders, such as anabolic steroids, to blood oxygen boosters, like EPO, full name Erythropoietin. Just like any other drug—alcohol, cocaine, or heroin—performance enhancements can cause a powerful psychological and, yes, even physical dependency.
For example, anabolic steroids, the synthetic substances that produce extra amounts of testosterone, a male hormone that occurs naturally in the body, can become quite addictive if abused regularly. The problem is that while a person is abusing steroids, the mechanism that naturally produces testosterone becomes suppressed. The brain shuts off the stimulating hormones that prompt the male testes to make testosterone, and the natural mechanism for making testosterone shuts down.
The result is withdrawal symptoms, which include deflated muscles, mood swings, fatigue, restlessness, loss of appetite, insomnia, reduced sex drive, and steroid cravings. The most dangerous of the withdrawal symptoms is depression, because it sometimes leads to suicide attempts, especially for adolescents who are particularly at risk.
EPO, on the other hand, works by boosting an athlete’s red blood cell count (and thus the efficiency with which oxygen is transported around the body) in order to improve performance. The danger with EPO is that the body’s capacity to produce red blood cells naturally is compromised, with the athlete ultimately having to rely on injections of the hormone for the rest of his or her life.
As it turns out, both types of performance enhancements, steroids and EPO, were used by Lance Armstrong to help him win races, not to mention other things like blood doping and administration of human growth hormones. This sad fact has been corroborated by the hundreds of pages of eyewitness testimony recently released by the United States Anti-doping Agency. (Click here for a list of other common performance enhancements used in cycling.)
To this day, Lance Armstrong has remained completely silent about this evidence—no apologies, no press conferences, no public statements, no nothing.
MR. ARMSTRONG, THIS IS NOT THE WAY TO REBUILD A REPUTATION.
If you want to get back into the good graces of your fans and supporters, you must do what my fellow addicts and I all had to do at some point in our recoveries. You must take that First Step and admit powerlessness over your addiction. Humble yourself, sir. Release your pride and accept humility. Then and only then, can you begin the long, arduous journey of recovery.
It’s not going to be easy, especially for someone with your celebrity. (It wasn’t easy for any of us, I can assure you). But, with this celebrity, comes a once in a lifetime opportunity to spread awareness of an increasingly rampant problem among our youth sports programs. Kids all over the world are getting caught up in this “win at all costs” mentality. And they are risking not only their eligibility, but also their health and futures.
I don’t have to tell you how detrimental this thing is. You’ve lived it. You’ve lost everything because of it. But, I’m telling you, it’s not too late. You can still do something about this. You can change it around. You can recover your integrity.
Just like you were a source of hope and courage to millions affected by Cancer, you can be that same beacon of light to those struggling with addiction. Don’t wait any longer. Take that first step. Make the apology. Then, commit yourself to eliminating the use of performance enhancements in our youth sports programs.
You can do it, Mr. Armstrong. And you know you can do it. You’ve done it before. So, come on…we’re all waiting.